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  • French soldiers conduct an area control operation in Ndaki, Mali.

    French soldiers conduct an area control operation in Ndaki, Mali. | Photo: Reuters

Published 3 February 2020
Opinion

“I do not believe that more military would help,” the head of OCHA in Mali said. “What we need is more engagement on the political front.”

The head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Mali Ute Kollies said Monday that more troops will not help to stabilize Mali.

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Urging for more talks with Islamist armed groups, and for more funding for aid and development, Kollies told journalists in Geneva that Mali was at a turning point, and regretted a lack of international interest in what is happening in the country.

The funds received by OCHA in the African nation in 2019 amounted to just five percent of the US$3 billion spent by armed forces there.

Kollies remarks came as France, the former colonial power, announced Sunday it will reinforce its presence in the Sahel region, adding 600 additional soldiers to the 4,500 already present in the area.

“I do not believe that more military would help,” the U.N. official said. “What we need is more engagement on the political front.”

She gave the example of a decision by the Malian government to send emissaries to speak with representatives of two Islamist militant groups in central Mali.

“We need different pressure on the different sides,” the official added.

OCHA says that about 4.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Mali, 1.1 million more than last year. Yet risks for aid workers are growing, and Kollies said access to some areas was “extremely difficult."

She said OCHA was in contact with armed groups active in areas where the state was absent and had even provided some of them with training in “humanitarian principles and mandate” to try to ensure civilians and aid workers were protected.

The security situation in the Sahel has been worsening after a Tuareg rebellion started in 2012, seizing much of northern Mali and declaring independence. Rebel groups who supported the separatists at first turned against them afterward and took control of several towns and regions.

France sent troops to Mali in January 2013 after the rebel groups’ advance started to threaten Malian capital Bamako.

Despite the French presence, armed groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State have spread to the center of Mali, to western Niger and to the north and east of Burkina Faso.

Thousands of people have died, while hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes.

In a report released in July, U.N. experts said "the most striking international developments" during the first six months of 2019 included "the growing ambition and reach of terrorist groups in the Sahel and West Africa" where ISIL and al-Qaeda fighters are collaborating to destroy already fragile countries.

Areas of the Sahel that have seen the most fighting are severely underdeveloped. Armed groups have exploited poverty as well as religious and ethnic divisions to recruit fighters in a region that is severely underdeveloped.

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